Red Dead Redemption and Western Metaphysics: Part One

Red Dead Redemption delivered a number of surreal and unique gaming moments that expressed the Spaghetti Western ethos. Caid will examine the character of John Marston, the settings, and the plot twists that illuminate the views held by the Cowboy/Outlaw.

Original posted on Post Mortem Podcast by my staff writer Kit Kelchner a.k.a Caid. Check us out @ All content bellow is reserved by its respective copyright holder.

Red Dead Redemption delivered a number of surreal and unique gaming moments that expressed the Spaghetti Western ethos. In this blog series I'll examine the character of John Marston, the settings, and the plot twists that illuminate the views held by the Cowboy/Outlaw. For some, this will help put the plot and its controversial ending into perspective and for others, it will reaffirm why the Western genre has remained popular for well over 140 years through depictions in literature, cinema, and television. If you enjoy our Post-Mortem game analysis, love Westerns, or want to talk philosophy - tag our blog and let's ride!


What Is The West?

The West is depicted as a land of opportunity and freedom. A man can take things into his own hands (preferably with six-guns in each) and make of his life what he will. The typical protagonist is a man with a life put behind him by steady hoofprints west. A displaced southern Civil War rebel (The Outlaw Josey Wales), someone who has a past better left forgotten (Red Dead's Marston), a vengeance seeker (Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West), or anti-hero are typical protagonists.

These Cowboy/Outlaws live by a different set of concerns which are set in conflict with each other and the Easterners. The "citified train folk" and settlers, typically Christian in background, are ever encroaching on the physical and spiritual solitude sought by the Westerners.

Let's look at a few of the Red Dead Redemption moments that illustrate the East/West divide. During the games opening conversation aboard a westbound train, the Preacher says:

Father: What you must remember, my dear, is that we have been brought here to
        spread the word. And the word and civilization, they are the same
        thing. They are the gifts. It is the opportunity we have -- the chance
        to live among people who are decent and who do not kill each other,
        and who let you worship in peace.

This solitude is also sought and cherished by true westerners, but they have a different view of what that means. As I played Marston during a ranch mission, a particular comment really struck me. Drew MacFarland offers the following:

Drew: I've seen strong men wither and die under that unforgiving sun. That
      whole herds of cattle take sick and die. But I've never once doubted my
      life here.

Marston: No, sir.

Drew: When I hear about this so-called Federal Government, sending out agents
      to covertly murder and control people, then I start to worry. I mean,
      alright, Williamson is a menace and men like him are the plague, but
      isn't a government agent a worse menace? In all that symbolizes, I mean.

Governmental controls that reduce a person's freedom is not something a Westerner abides with ease. In fact, living an unencroached life is at the heart of the Western ethos. Even though that life might be difficult, treacherous, or even unlucky, a Westerner seeks the freedom to make their own way and their own mistakes. In the Outlaw Josey Wales, Eastwood's character simply replies, "I reckon so..." when he is told that he will be hounded to hell and back for not submitting to the Yankee forces.

When Marston describes his childhood, it becomes clear what drew him to the West, but once there he has no intentions of going East.

Marston: My father died when I was 8 years old. His eyes were...well, let's
         just say he was blinded in a barfight south of Chicago. My mother
         died during childbirth. She was a prostitute and he was her, well I
         don't know what he was. 'Till I was sent off to an orphanage and ran
         away and fell in with a gang.

Bonnie: My word, what a difficult life you've lived.

Marston: The leader of the gang taught me how to read. Taught me how to see
         all that was good in the world. He was a great man in a way.

Bonnie: But you killed people?

Marston: Sure, and I've suffered for it. And that's the life I left, or tried
         to leave. I've said too much, Bonnie.  I'm an uneducated killer sent
         here to do all I can do well, kill a man in cold blood so that another
         man may do his part to cut crime in an area, and a rich man can be
         elected governor on the back of these promises.

Bonnie: Civilization is a truly beautiful thing, Mr. Marston.

As we begin to see, Marston is cut out of the right kind of cloth for a Western story. In Part 2 we will examine the three prevailing themes of Westerns: Death, Vengeance, and the Taming of the West

Game script quotes excerpted from the Shotgunnova game script FAQ at

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